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Wholly Smokes by John Sladek: Reviews/Comments

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Infinity Plus posted an appreciative review of Wholly Smokes by John Toon: "Comedy as black as a smoker's lungs."

The Alien Online posted enthusiastic reviews of Wholly Smokes by Adam Roberts and Andy Sawyer. This site has since died, so here with permission and thanks ...

Andy Sawyer: How to describe Wholly Smokes? It's fictional non-fiction, a troll through the history of the USA in the manner of Forrest Gump (only without the mental-defective jokes), a sly satire. It's a family-history saga which tells you almost everything you need to know about the USA in 128 pages. It's the author's last completed work, and one which makes us grateful that after all those years Sladek was still hanging on in there.

We hear a lot about the 'war on drugs' and how evil the coca growers of South America are. Ironic, then, that the first great product of North America was a narcotic drug called 'tobacco'. Sladek gives us the history of the General Snuff and Tobacco Company from the early days when Henry Porteus, befuddled by tobacco, attempted to abduct Pocohantas in 1614, and, changing his name to Badcock, ran off to establish a plantation, to Dwight Badcock's attempt in the 1990s to encourage a juvenile market through the use of cartoon characters and tie-in promotions.

Many of the main events and personalities of American history seem to be associated with the GST. It was a Badcock who delivered the real (or at least a) Gettysburg Address, who came up with the idea for baseball cards in cigarette packages, and who thought of the famous idea of assassinating Castro with an exploding cigar. Neatest scheme was LeRoy Badcock's wheeze to exploit the distinctive cigar-shape of zeppelins like the Hindenberg – whose no-smoking rule was there for a very good reason.

Sladek's wry, dry science fiction satire was a favourite of the 'New Wave' era and Dave Langford, who co-operates Ansible E-ditions, edited Maps – a wonderful volume of previously uncollected Sladek stories, published by the sadly-missed Big Engine Press. Wholly Smokes belongs to that classification of an author's works which is 'miscellania': in other words, it's slight, highly amusing, and wonderfully Silly in the way Monty Python sketches used to be. The clip-art illustrations add to the bizarre atmosphere. File under 'strange'.

Michael Moorcock: John Sladek's last book, Wholly Smokes, is a heartfelt satire about the tobacco industry. It combines all his usual virtues – highly disciplined prose, sardonic humour, substantial subject – which make him so admired by his fans. If one reads it with a touch of sadness, given John's terrible respiratory illness which led to his death, this only adds a further profound dimension to the book. As always with John's work, there's a warning to us all in it as well as a frequently hilarious view of the world which makes him without doubt the funniest existentialist of them all.

Matthew Davis: Thanks for all the effort into making this available. The sort of topic on American opportunistic industrialism through the ages that I could see Gore Vidal essaying, but with a looser prose rising to some real moments of breathtakingly funny and painful godawfulness. In its own way I suppose this might be Sladek's most American work – it's certainly in an almost predominantly American genre: those Michener type doorstops that cover 200 years of bicycle clips, successive generations in some hick town, the influence of flat-earthism in Republican presidencies or whatever.

Author biography Back to book page